Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Random big vs. focussed little

In the last little while I have been lucky enough to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Prado in Madrid. Due to rebuilding, there is not much by volume on show in Amsterdam: just ten or so rooms. But most of the famous Dutch paintings are there: the Rembrandts, Vermeers and Franz Hals.

(Blog illustrated with a gratuitous view of Madrid from my phone: I love the light on the water.)

At first I was a little irritated to pay ten euros to see this small exhibition, but after going to the Prado, I'm not sure it isn't a really good way to see the collection. You don't have to walk through halls and halls of undistinguished canvasses, as you do in Madrid. You don't have to search for the gem hidden in the rough. One might disagree with some the details of the Rijksmuseum's selection, but seeing those three Vermeers on the same wall, intimately: that was wonderful. In the Prado in contrast, there are lots of indifferent Velazquez, with the great pictures separated (or in London for the National Gallery show) and without context. Perhaps having twenty of someone's favourite canvasses from a big collection can be better than having all of it?

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